Hannah Drake

Culture

Feminism and the End of Game of Thrones

CommentaryHannah DrakeComment

I probably said last time that I wouldn’t post about Game of Thrones anymore, so call me an Oathbreaker. After the end of the series, I read so many tweets, subreddits, and hot takes on Game of Thrones that I just needed an outlet for all of my thoughts. So consider this my essay on Game of Thrones. (Fun Fact: I wrote a paper on hip hop in college. T.I and Dr. Dre were much of my sources. Writing essays on pop culture is fun!)

The rest of this post contains spoilers for Game of Thrones in its entirety.

Overall, I’m not upset about how the story ended. It’s fine. I believe the finale was destined to be a letdown (I’ll get to that), but I’m not bothered about how they wrapped up most of the characters’ arcs. What bothers me, like many people, is that the final two seasons felt rushed. I didn’t feel this way about season seven until we were nearing the end of season eight, though. Apparently the showrunners wanted the final 13 episodes in one season, but ultimately decided to split the episodes into seven and six for production purposes. Like so many other viewers, I feel that this was a mistake. In my perfect Game of Thrones world, season seven would have wrapped the Night Knight storyline. It would have flipped the script on what viewers had come to expect in Game of Thrones with a big, often shocking ninth episode and a wrap up tenth episode. A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms would have been a relatively low key ninth episode, while The Long Night would have been action packed and ended with a huge moment, Arya killing the Night King. Open season eight with the Winterfell crew burning the funeral pyres, and then slow down. They could have built the Daenerys vs. Cersei conflict and Daenerys’s descent into madness, leading her to burn King’s Landing. They could have sat in the aftermath of the destruction of the city and what Dany intended to do with her new power for a while. All of those scenes that we were left to fill in for ourselves (Sansa and Arya finding out who Jon is, Missandei getting kidnapped, Tryion and Bran’s conversations, Grey Worm for some reason arresting Jon instead of killing him, Sansa possibly vying for Jon to be exiled so she can have the North for herself, etc.) could have actually played out on screen. The ninth episode of the final season could have ended with Jon killing Daenerys and Drogon flying off with her body. Use the entire finale to wrap up character’s storylines and take advantage of the additional seven episodes to make these big moments (the deaths of the Night King, Cersei, and Daenerys) really land. I found it incredibly frustrating that we had to read between the lines in moments that would have been shown in past seasons or watch the Inside the Episode and Game Revealed featurettes to fully understand the characters and plot points. And with 99.9% of the promotional campaign for the final season centring around the Night King conflict, when he only appeared on screen for a few moments in the whole season, it made it difficult to get back into the politics of Westeros for the final three episodes.

Probably because I agree with it, but I feel like the “rushed” complaint is the most valid for the final season of Game of Thrones. It basically lead to zero interesting Cersei scenes and she has consistently been one of the most compelling characters on the show! A lot of the “hot takes” I’ve been reading have been about how Game of Thrones was ultimately anti-feminist, usually focusing solely on Dany, sometimes including Cersei and/or Brienne, and ruined Dany’s character, though, and I have to say I disagree 100%.

Dany’s descent into madness should have been more flushed out, yes. I felt like all signs pointed towards this since she coldly watched her brother’s execution in season one, but a lot of fans felt it was a disservice to her character. Storytellers should show not tell, and it wasn’t all that clear that we were supposed to know that seeing the Red Keep from the city walls is what ultimately led Dany to ignore the bells of surrender and burn King’s Landing. Instead, that was literally insider information from the Inside the Episode that followed. But Dany going full Mad Queen doesn’t make her story anti-feminist. Dany did a lot of things over the eight seasons to warrant her being held up as a feminist icon, including one of my favourite scenes in which she holds a war council with four other women, three of whom are representing three of the seven kingdoms. (At the time of this scene in the show, episode 7.2, Sansa was about to take over the power in the North from Jon and Cersei was ruling from the Iron Throne, which means you could argue that six of the seven kingdoms were ruled by women.) It’s probably not the ending for her character that a lot of fans of the show wanted, but that doesn’t discredit things to warrant praise in previous seasons. And it’s likely where the story is headed in the books, if they’re ever finished.

I read a lengthy article about the finale and the end of many of the character’s arcs that basically said “yeah, sure, it was cool when those women were ruling across Westeros, but ultimately they showed that women are too emotional to rule.” [Insert guy blinking GIF here, please.] If that’s how you interpret Dany’s and Cersei’s arcs, then I guess that’s on you, but that article didn’t at all mention some of the other female leaders or rulers that we’ve seen throughout the show, like Margaery, queen to three kings, Olenna, the real power in the Reach, or Yara, a chosen leader by the Ironborn. I wish that they show hadn’t spent nearly all of our time with Cersei in season eight just reminding us that she loved her children, but I don’t think that’s it’s fair to say that they were poor rulers because they fall into cheap stereotypes about women in power. In the books, Cersei is more clearly not as clever as she thinks she is, and even in the show, she falls into her own traps, like the mess she caused with the High Sparrow in season five. She thought it was absurd that anyone should view her as less than her brother or husband because she was a woman, especially her father. She simply lusted after power and, as she warned us in the first season, when you win or you die. Dany especially was so reminiscent of both her father and brother by the end, it seemed painfully obvious that it was a Targaryen thing, not a woman thing. That same article briefly touched on Brienne’s and Sansa’s storylines in a way that I don’t understand at all, and had little to say about Arya.

Brienne’s arc had been taking heat since the end of episode 8.4, when we saw her crying in her nightgown after Jaime rode south for Cersei. People immediately hopped online to say they completely ruined her character, so seriously, WTF? But I didn’t get that impression at all and I really bought into the explanation of that scene from the Binge Mode podcast that she was completely emotionally vulnerable with Jaime in a way she had never been before and he was abandoning her with little explanation. In her introduction to the show, we know that she wants to be a knight, but is restricted by her gender. We find out that she loved Renly because he comforted her when the boys her father had brought to court her laughed at her and ridiculed her for her appearance. She doesn’t open herself up to anyone after that, especially not a man. Just look at how resistant she is even to Pod, who was literally just there to help her. Just because she don’t need no man, doesn’t mean she doesn’t desire love and acceptance from the person she loves and respects. What Jaime did to her was really crappy. He tried to leave in the middle of the night and when she confronted him about it, he said incredibly hurtful things to her. She knew that he would be riding to his death to return to King’s Landing. That moment would be painful and shocking and difficult to process for anyone. But we don’t see her on the couch in yoga pants eating Ben & Jerry’s the rest of the season. She picks herself up and carries on to do her duty. Brienne was knighted in episode 8.2, becoming the first female knight in the Seven Kingdoms. In the finale, she is raised to Lord Commander of the Kingsguard, another first for women in Westeros. It’s her duty as Lord Commander to fill the pages of the fallen Kingsguard (Side note: I hope Arya told her what Meryn Trant really was and how he died so she can write that down too.) and she recorded Jaime’s deeds with admiration, respect, and honesty. She wasn’t snivelling over him or being petty. She accepted that he had an addiction to Cersei and I like to think she understood that didn’t discount his feelings for her.

Sansa, meanwhile, turned out to be a major player in the game, eventually rising to Queen in the North in her own right. When we first meet her, she’s swooning over a prince and wants to have his babies. When we leave her, she’s the chosen leader of her people, she’s the queen of her own kingdom, she will likely be able to pass down the Stark name to her future children, and she doesn’t need a man by her side. In fact…

Many viewers, however, have been frustrated with the direction of Sansa’s storyline since season five when she was essentially sold to the Boltons, married to someone more cruel than Joffrey, and raped on her wedding night and repeatedly until she and Theon escaped Winterfell. She took the place of her best friend Jeyne Poole, who was married to Ramsay under the guise that she was Arya in the books. Her wedding night was an incredibly difficult scene to watch and there were complaints that we saw it play out on Theon’s face, letting a man, a bystander take precedent over a woman is getting raped. I guess my question is how did you want that scene to play out? Did you want to see what happened to Sansa rather just hearing it? I didn’t feel that it discounted what happened to her in any way, I was glad not to see it, and I thought it added another layer of torture to Theon, without saying that what Theon experienced in that room was worse than what Sansa experienced. Since her escape, her abuse at the hands of Joffrey and Ramsay has been called a plot point to make her stronger. In The Last of the Starks, she says to the Hound, “Without Littlefinger and Ramsay and the rest, I would’ve stayed a little bird all my life”. People have complained about that quote as well and I do think those are valid points, but we should also consider that sexual assault and abuse survivors deal with their trauma in different ways. I think there’s reason to believe that Sansa would have grown into who she was in the final episode without Ramsay and I think it’s fine that she found strength in her trauma. Some women do. The reality is, Westeros is a fantasy version of medieval Europe and women were raped in medieval Europe. Women are raped all over the world today by their partners (Daenerys, Sansa), by their family members (Cersei), and by strangers and each of those women will deal with the experience in their own way. Perhaps Sansa’s line to the Hound wouldn’t have felt as much like a plot device if the season had been expanded and we could have seen her dealt with it in other ways, with other people, or by herself. I just never took it the way I’m seeing other people did, which I think is okay. But I think it’s unreasonable to think that rape shouldn’t be a part of this world and, to be honest, maybe we shouldn’t collectively channel our anger toward the women who are raped in our world instead of toward a character on a TV show or in a book.

As I mentioned above, Arya was conspicuously left out of a lot of the articles and arguments that Game of Thrones ultimately descended into an anti-feminist show. Of course things looked different earlier in the show (I mentioned Dany’s war council and the women in power scattered across the kingdoms at the time), but Arya ultimately had the most feminist arcs and ending of all the female characters on the show. In season one, when discussing her future with her father, ("You will marry a high lord and rule his castle. And your sons shall be knights, and princes, and lords,” Ned said.) Arya first said what would be her mantra: “That’s not me.” From season two up until season seven, we see Arya completely on her own. Keep in mind, she’s about 12 years old in the first season of the show. She travels across Westeros, she narrowly misses reconnecting with her family twice, she sails to another continent and trains to become a Faceless Man, she seeks vengeance for the crimes committed against her family, all before returning to Winterfell to be reunited with her surviving siblings. She was responsible for the deaths of a member of the Kingsguard (Meryn Trant), the extinction of House Frey, one of the most powerful men in the realm (Littlefinger), and the Night King. The girl can bring it! In episode 8.2, she chooses to spend what could be her last night alive with a man she cares about, but when he proposes marriage, when he asks her to be his lady at Storms End, she tells Gendry “that’s not me”. Arya chose her feminist heroes well, naming her direwolf after Nymeria of Dorne, the warrior-queen of the Rhoynar and mentioning Rhaenys and Visenya’s roles in the conquering of Westors to Tywin at Harrenhal in season two. And those women have inspired her to truly be herself, to not conform to societal expectations, and to set her own path. I mean, people still clutch their pearls all around the world to this day when women decide they’re not going to marry (or enter into an arrangement marriage) and just have babies. That is still a dangerous choice to make in some parts of the world. Throughout the series, she subverts patriarchal norms and, in a lot of ways, shatters some glass ceilings. In fact, all of the women I’ve mentioned—Daenerys, Cersei, Brienne, and Sansa—shatter their own glass ceilings! She even models her outfits after her father and brothers instead of her mother and sister. While I do love the idea of Gendry and Arya together and the poetry of the Baratheons and Starks finally joining their houses, like King Robert wanted in the very first episode, I love even more that she is the captain of an expedition to find out what is west of Westeros and flying under the Stark banner.

It’s my understanding that feminism is about the equal right to choose your own path, which all of these women did. Cersei’s path or Daenerys’s path may not have led to a place viewers wanted, but they both made the choices that pulled them further and further into destruction and madness. Feminism doesn’t mean that at the end of the show, it’s just the women left standing and everything is hunky dory and no one is too emotional because then they’re emotional because they’re women. It’s not anti-feminist to have a female character make poor decisions or ultimately turn out to be a villain. But it seems to me to be irresponsible to take one aspect of Brienne’s story and cry anti-feminism on her behalf or to completely ignore Arya’s entire arc just so you can say Game of Thrones as a whole was just one more patriarchal, misogynist show. (By all means, yes, let’s talk about how it’s a real shame that these women were written and directed by mostly men!)

What did you think about the ending of Game of Thrones or, more specifically, the character arcs of these female characters?

Header photo from Entertainment Magazine. Show stills and GIFs found via Google.

Why I'm Done Travelling for Instagram

TravelHannah Drake2 Comments

If you’ve been around here for a while, you might know that we went to Italy for about 10 days in September for our honeymoon. You might not have noticed at all though and I don’t blame you. For someone who shares their life on social media and a blog, for someone who lists travel and taking photos as hobbies, I’ve been so uninspired to share anything about our trip. Yes, I’m finally starting to share blog posts about our time in Italy, but I was dragging my feet for months when it came to even thinking about our honeymoon. But I’m finally ready to come clean about why I’ve only posted a handful of photos on Instagram and why it took me about six months to start looking through the literally thousands of photos I took or even think about trying to recap our trip in any form for even my own benefit.

We had a really wonderful week and a half in Italy and we are really lucky that we were able to take that trip thanks to saving for it (would definitely recommend a delayed honeymoon) and getting the time off work. I 100% know that. But there were a lot of things about our trip that failed to meet my expectations and there were a few things that down right sucked.

...a lot of our trip was driven by my desire of wanting to get the perfect Insta.

If I’m being completely honest, a lot of our trip was driven by my desire of wanting to get the perfect Insta. I was the actual embodiment of doing it for the ‘Gram. We booked five days on the Amalfi Coast and we were probably both over it by the end of the second day. I so badly wanted to go to all those villages hanging off the side of the mountains above the ocean and get the photo that all the other girls on Instagram have. And in a lot of ways, that kind of ruined my trip.

The Amalfi Coast and Capri are beautiful parts of the world. They’re so picturesque and absolutely breathtaking in real life. But that whole idea of wandering around in a flowy maxi dress, the perfect straw hat, and pretty much any shoe other than sneakers is the definition of Instagram BS. They’re completely overrated for what Instagram has turned them into and I don’t really want to contribute to that façade of Instagrammable destinations anymore. And by the way, those places are so beautiful because they’re built into mountains. If you want to go somewhere, you have to H I K E there. You’re sweating your face off even at the end of September and bumping into strangers who are probably sweatier than you. It’s not relaxing. It’s not picture-perfect. It’s probably not very hygienic.

At the end of the trip, we spent three days in Rome and absolutely fell in love with the city. I would go back to Rome for a month right now if I could. There were some things that went totally wrong in Rome too and I know that’s just a part of travelling, especially to a foreign country. But our time there was exponentially more enjoyable. Looking back, we both wish we had switched those blocks of the trip around: three days on the Coast, five days in Rome. (Just an FYI that will forever be my recommendation if you ever ask me for Italy tips.)

I think in the time that has passed since our trip, I’ve almost tried to put it out of my mind. I’m discovering that I feel guilty AF for prioritising our trip around a freaking app on my phone and some double taps from friends and strangers alike.

Since I’ve started going through the photos for my blog posts, particularly from Capri and the Amalfi Coast, a lot of happy, beautiful memories have come flooding back and all I can do about the rest is laugh. Italy was a dream we both had for so many years and I was really stupid to waste it. To, at times, focus more on getting likes or being reposted than on celebrating my marriage and exploring the beautiful country that invented pasta!

It’s no secret that Instagram promotes a picture-perfect, care-free life and I’m literally exhausted from contributing to that.

Italy has been a huge wake up call for me in so many ways. Even since our trip, I’ve found myself pinning blog posts titled “The Best Instagram Spots in Paris” or “The Most Instagrammable Cafes in London” and I’ve got to stop. It’s no secret that Instagram promotes a picture-perfect, care-free life and I’m literally exhausted from contributing to that. I’ve moved to a new country that’s rich in history, with buildings that are older that America, that provides easy access to a whole other continent full of the same. I want to live my life and experience those things wholly rather than choosing where we go on holiday because of a trip I saw an influencer take through a handful of squares on an app. I want to learn about other cultures, other cuisines, other languages rather than use foreign countries for a photoshoot backdrop. I’m really lucky that Luke and I both get so much paid annual leave and have the means to travel and it would be such a shame if I look back on my life and see that I did it all for the ‘Gram and not for myself or for my family.

This year, Luke and I aren’t planning any big trips, but are hoping to do smaller trips throughout Europe over long weekends. This year, I want to travel for the right reasons. I don’t want to go somewhere just because it’s Instagrammable. I don’t want to get more caught up in curating the perfect image to share online than actually taking in the beauty and history around me. I don’t want to plan my trip around my blog posts. I want to travel because we love to travel. I want to experience the world without a filter. I want to live in the moment instead of online.

I want to experience the world without a filter. I want to live in the moment instead of online.

And in between trips, I want to fill my Instagram feed with influencers who influence me to be this better version of myself. I want to follow travel bloggers/Instagrammers who take time to learn about the place they’re visiting and share in that history with their followers. I’m not interested in little squares photoshopped to perfection to show off a cute outfit or comped five star accommodations and to be #goals. The trade off of unrealistic exceptions for thousands of likes or even going viral simply isn’t worth it. It has created a toxic environment online and in people’s realities and I don’t want to be a part of it anymore.

I’m not deleting Instagram, at least not now anyway. (I’ve seriously been considering it a lot lately.) But I want to commit to being more real on the app. I know I’ve said this before about being vulnerable and honest, but I never took the time to consider how that translates to my travels and what I share from my travels or how I share it. I’ve put a lot of pressure on myself to travel as much as possible literally so I can impress people back in the States because I’m OMG So European, but I’m done with that. It’s translated to a lot of anxiety when we’re not travelling, which is the overwhelming majority of the time. The reality is we’re not rich, we spend a heck of a lot more time sitting on the couch watching Netflix than jetsetting across Europe and it’s high time I be more real about that.

The Dark Side of Social Media

CommentaryHannah DrakeComment

Oy. Social Media. Where do I even begin?

Like most people these days, I absolutely have a love-hate relationship with the apps on my phone that seem to suck up so much of my time and energy. I have a hard time finding balance. I have a hard time unplugging. And sometimes I just want to delete them all.

I haven't because I truly believe social media allows for genuine connections with people who are coming to the table for the same reason. In the last two months alone, I've met two wonderful women in real life that I wouldn't know if it weren't for Instagram. I'm inspired and encouraged by people I follow on social media and I don't want to lose that.

But of course sometimes it's a bad place with a dark side and I think we've all experienced to some extent. At the very least, we have a false sense of community with people we know in real life. We feel that because we see what our friends are up to online, we're caught up in their lives and don't need actually keep in touch very well. I have absolutely fallen victim to this falsehood, and even more so now that I live far away from the vast majority of my Facebook friends.

At the very worst, social media can be incredibly damaging to our mental health, our perspective of our own life, our priorities and aspirations, and our sense of reality. A lot more people are open to talking about this dark side of the apps most of us use on a daily basis and that's really great, but the issues still remain the same and I think it manifests itself the worst on Instagram. 

When you scroll through Instagram, it's really easy to lose sight of reality. Instagram is a photo-focused app that prioritises pretty photos. Unless you're a celebrity, you can't get away with posting blurry, grainy, dark photos if you want all the followers and likes. So people are more inclined to post beautiful photos, which often results in creating a highlight real of life or sometimes just a staged version of real life. It's easy to forget that people are only sharing the beautiful things they have, the exciting things they do, the awesome places they visit, and the wonderful relationships they cultivate, but behind the scenes, they have struggles and pain and insecurities as well. There are people have gone into debt to "keep up with the Joneses" with what they see on social media, especially when it comes to the materialism of fashion bloggers and influencers. There are people who never put their phone down to enjoy the moment because they're too busy trying to capture the perfect shot or live streaming every experience. There are people who portray a picture-perfect relationship and hide mess and the troubles of their real relationship. It's all toxic and it's all hurting us.

In recent months, I've tried to be more real and honest about life and my struggles and insecurities here on my blog and on my social media platforms. Even though it may be accompanied by a pretty picture on Instagram, I'll talk about the mess in my house, the mess in my life, the mess in my heart. And I've seen a lot of people doing that too. I've seen a lot of people gently remind their followers that these are the highlights and their lives are far from perfect. Those are the people who I'm more inclined to follow because I don't need the temptation of someone who portrays a perfect life or who is always showing off new things that I could never afford.

A few years ago, I followed countless fashion bloggers on Instagram who were always posting brand new outfits and convincing me that I too needed new clothes in my closet. I had no idea that some of these people were tucking the tags into their clothes only to return them after they've been photographed or even racking up thousands of dollars in debt to always have new clothes. (Or worse yet, posting from the changing room at Nordstrom and never even taking the clothes they're sharing and linking to out of the store!) Now, when it comes to fashion, I follow far fewer accounts and try to follow people who focus on capsule wardrobes, recycling pieces, rewearing outfits, and live by the idea that less is more. I know myself and I know how easy it is for me to fall into the idea of keeping up with trends and suddenly I've convinced my shirt that I need another, slightly different white shirt or something.

I've tried to be more conscious of who I'm choosing to follow, even though it's taken a while. I've unfollowed a lot of people that I found only added negativity to my life, either directly or indirectly. If I feel jealous and envious of their social media personas, or it's clear they're not being real, I usually unfollow because I don't want to succumb to comparing my lows to someone else's highs. When I'm having a bad day, I don't need to see someone on social media showing off for the purposes of showing off. There are no rules on who you have to follow and even though we all have people who we "probably should" follow, most social media platforms, including Facebook, Twitter, and now Instagram, allow for you to mute someone to hide them from your feed. It's easier than ever to be empowered to create your own experience online and surround yourself only with people and accounts who inspire you, encourage you, and make you feel good about yourself and your life.

So even though I've cleaned out my feed and tried to create a space that inspires me and brings me positivity, I still struggle, especially with Instagram. It's so easy to compare. It's so easy to think that more followers means more opportunities, more exposure, more security, more happiness, whatever it is. To be completely honest, sometimes I look at people's accounts and think "my photos are better than hers, why does she have 10x the followers?" At the end of the day, the number of my Instagram followers isn't going to be in my obituary, this isn't that one episode of Black Mirror with Bryce Dallas Howard, so it shouldn't matter, but it does. And it's hard to even articulate why it does. One of the girls I follow recently hit 10k followers and she talked honestly about how she didn't wake up feeling any different when she hit 10k. She didn't suddenly have more money, she wasn't happier, it doesn't really change anything. She didn't want people to look at her account and think she was happy and perfect and successful based solely off a number next to your picture. It's just a number and it doesn't define who we are. The hard part is just remembering that.

The important thing to remember is that everyone has problems, even if they have 1 million followers on Instagram. Everyone struggles with things and everyone feels the pressure to put their best foot forward. Of course no one wants to read about all the bad things in your life all the time (we get that enough from our high school classmates on Facebook, amirite?), but it's okay to be honest with people about what your real life looks like. It's shocking how many people can relate when you are vulnerable about something you're going through on the internet. And it's really encouraging to read that you're not alone. The number of people who follow us on any social media platform doesn't determine if we're good or bad people. It doesn't count what's in your heart. It doesn't know what your dreams are. It doesn't consider the hard work you've put in to get to where you are. It's just a silly number and at the end of the day, it doesn't define you and it doesn't matter.

The internet can be a lot of things. It can be a scary place, a dangerous place. But it can also bring you a lot of amazing opportunities and introduce you to a lot of incredible people. The space you take up online is what you make of it. If you want it to be a positive place that makes you feel good about yourself, you can create that. And when you need a break, take one. Get realigned with what truly matters in life. Step away and take a breath. No one is going to die if you miss a day posting on Instagram or take a break from your blog. It'll all still be there when you come back to it, if you come back to it. And it'll all be okay.